Four years ago, Shiv Lal realised that the soil on his 3-acre plot of land had become so hard and dry that he could no longer till it with his own bull. He considered hiring a tractor instead. Money was tight and he would have had to take out a loan with the local moneylender, paying exorbitant interests on a loan that he would pay back with his future earnings. But he knew that since he was dependent on the monsoons for irrigation, just one season of poor rain would push him into a cycle of debt from which he might not recover.
When Shiv Lal heard about organic farming that was being promoted in the area, he decided to give it a try. In his first year, he planted organic cotton on one acre of land, following the instruction he received. He did not use any chemical pesticides or fertilisers. The cotton harvested that year was fine, but the yields were disappointing.
Still, Shiv Lal decided to stick with it and to continue with organic cultivation as he had learned it. He recalls: “I instinctively felt that I was on the right path. I had to break out of the vicious cycle of borrowing money to buy urea and pesticides from the market.”
“I instinctively felt that I was on the right path [with organic farming practises]. I had to break out of the vicious cycle of borrowing money to buy urea and pesticides from the market.”Farmer’s Friend Shiv Lal
His perseverance and belief paid off. Now, in his third year of organic farming he is not just loan free but is also saving money from cultivation. He is so convinced, that Shiv Lal has become almost evangelical in his zeal for organic and has been inspiring other farmers in his village to abandon chemical farming.
Earlier this year, the government announced the post of “Kisan Mitr” (Farmer’s Friend) to promote and propagate organic farming. Shiv Lal decided to apply for it and got it. Armed with just a 9th grade education, experience and enthusiasm, he beat out the other candidates several of whom were college graduates.
He is paid a small stipend per month and is he entrusted with distributing organic farming products to farmers. But mostly, Shiv Lal feels pride and honour in his work to convert so many others to organic farming. He knows that he is helping them save themselves from debt, while keeping themselves and their environment healthy.
Photography by Dinesh Khanna